The Endless To Do List

There are numerous forms of self-sabotage. In my last post, I spoke about one of the most frequently-used, procrastination. But sometimes, self-sabotage comes in forms that are less obvious. In fact, sometimes, these self-sabotage disguises itself as downright productivity.

If the below look familiar, you may be unintentionally self-sabotaging.

Your To-do list continually grows, and is never completed.

To clarify, I’m not talking about your “life” to do list. Obviously, there’s always something we “could” be doing, or always some goal we eventually want to reach. But if on a regular basis you find that your daily list is significantly longer than you could ever accomplish, you may be self-sabotaging.

Now, of course if your kid gets sick or your car breaks down, you’ll probably be moving particular items (doctors/mechanic appointments) to the top of the list, and it may well make the time to task ratio disproportionate. But if you regularly don’t finish the key, pre-planned items on your to-do list, that’s another story.

While lists are great, we – or at least I – often use them as a brain dump. Everything I could possibly think I might have to do goes on my list.  And this makes it super easy to “get a lot done”, without getting a lot done. For instance, say I’ve had a goal of being published on a particular site, I’ve decided to finally write an article to submit. Except that I’m super afraid it’ll be rejected. If the only only thing I got done all day is write that article, it would be a huge step towards my goal (I can’t control if it’s accepted, but I’ve done all I can). But, if I keep adding small things to my to-do list such as “text this friend”, “add xyz appointment to the calendar”, “order such and such on amazon”, I could end up checking off twenty items on my list, feel incredibly productive, and completely avoid writing that article. I’m sabotaging my own efforts to write that article, despite it’s publication being a big goal.  Afterall, my brain subconsciously reasons, if I never write it, I can’t submit it, and therefore, I can’t get rejected.

You’re Constantly “Too Busy”

It’ll please you to know I’m not going to go off on my “why I hate too busy” tangent here.  I understand that many of us are running around to make ends meat, especially those with families, who are accounting not only for their own time, but that of others.  But, similar to the constant to do list, if you are routinely having to reschedule or miss important appointments, if you’re frequently uttering phrases like, “I haven’t had five minutes to pee” (and literally mean it) or “I’m so busy I haven’t had a chance to eat today”, you may be self-sabotaging by over-committing. Why is this self-sabotage? Because if you have more appointments, meetings, etc than can fit on your calendar, unless none of them last more than a few minutes, it’s virtually impossible that you’re going to get them all done. If you can’t find ten  minutes in your day to pee or to grab a quick snack, you aren’t going to get through every calendar item. You’re setting yourself up for “failure”, and that is a form of self-sabotage.  It might not be intentional, but it’s still sabotaging your efforts.  It leads to constantly feeling rushed, never feeling finished, and that cycle is difficult to break. This can also seriously affect your health.

You’re always in the same stage of the process.

 For me, it’s often the planning/brainstorming/ideas stage. For some people, it might be the analysis stage or the final review before going “live”/public/etc stage. For others still, it might be the promotion/marketing stage (i.e. I may get all the way through self-publishing my book, but I’m so scared of getting all ½ star reviews that I never actually do enough promotion to let anyone it’s published).

The point is, we stall with all appearances of being detail oriented and productive.  And of course, some stages take a while. Obviously, I would like my novel to be edited carefully before I self-publish it, so I don’t want that process rushed. But let me tell you that for the last year, I’ve been in the “I’m thinking about getting it edited” stage. Let me also tell you that my dad is an editor. And yet it took me over a year to ask him if he’d help me edit it. Because once it’s edited, if I want to publish it, that means I have to move forward towards the publishing stage. Which then means it’ll be out there. Which means people may read it. Or they may not (feels like rejection). And if they do they may hate it (rejection). And I may feel like a total failure because supposedly writing is “my thing”, and yet people hate it. It’s less painful, in the short term at least, to keep thinking about getting it edited.

So if you find you’re spending three times as long on a particular stage of the process than truly seems necessary, and every time you think “OK maybe I should move forward” you find one more thing you need to quadruple check/brainstorm/analyze, review, you may be self-sabotaging.

So what can you do?

When it comes to to do lists….

  • Create a list of no more than three items that you really want to get done. As in, if you get no other tasks done today, you’ll be happy if you do these three.  Remember that all days don’t have to be “conquer the world days”. JIf you’re honest with yourself when doing this list, you’ll know what warrants “making the list” in your current situation, and when you’re adding just so you have something to cross off. Also, remember it’s three max. The more complicated/intense the tasks are, the fewer to include.
  • After you’ve created this main list, have your “B” list. Basically, if you have a bang up day, get your primary list done, and still have plenty of time to spare, start on these. They’re often items that don’t have a serious time stamp, but need to be done at some point – i.e. you may need to clean the tub this week, but you probably (hopefully) don’t urgently need to clean it today.
  • Next comes your parking lot list. If you’re not familiar with a parking lot, this is basically your brain dump.  In meetings, it’s often items that are off-topic, but you want to address later.  It’s similar for the to-do list. This is all those items that you eventually may want to get to, but they’re not necessarily related to the major tasks at hand. The parking lot list is great for those who, like me, get random ideas and thoughts out of nowhere. Something might pop in your head, and you don’t want to forget it, but you know it’ll veer you off course to address now.  Both your B list and your parking lot list can live somewhere that you can access if you need, but aren’t in plain sight and therefore aren’t as distracting.

For Your Calendar…

Give yourself twice as long for each appointment as you think you’ll need. Why? When was the last time your doctor was right on time? Or the last time your department meeting wasn’t at some point sidetracked and ran over the allotted time? If you schedule back to back to back meetings/appointments with little breathing room, it’s really easy to get “too busy” if there’s any hitch in the schedule at all. And if one of your appointments or to-do items involves an underlying fear, you could almost go to Vegas with the odds that it’s the one that you won’t have enough time for.

For Both: Set Boundaries….

Set boundaries for things that are really important to you as an overall human being. If it’s absolutely essential to your mental health that you meditate for thirty minutes a day, this item could be one of the three on your list every day. If your spiritual health relies on going to church/service each week, put that on the calendar and make it a non-negotiable (obviously these are barring emergencies/illness etc). If it’s important to you that your whole family sits down for dinner at the table every night, make it an appointment for yourself.

This might seem off topic, but often, we can self-sabotage by being so busy we don’t take care of ourselves. If we’re exhausted because we got two hours of sleep, we’ve eaten every meal in the car for the past week, we feel spiritually disconnected, we are not in a good place for moving towards our goals. And that’s where self-sabotage does its best work. Our fears often magnify when we’re exhausted or anxious or depressed or feeling disconnected from ourselves, and self-sabotage thrives on fear.

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